BTU #256 - From Army to 22 Years @ Amgen (Ben Chu)

I think the toughest challenge veterans have is communicating their value and experience in a way civilian employers will understand and appreciate.

— Ben Chu

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Why Listen:
Ben’s first job out of the Army was at Amgen, and he has worked there for nearly 23 years. In this interview we talk about the variety of roles he has held at Amgen. We also talk about Ben’s extensive experience mentoring many Veterans through American Corporate Partners. Ben shares advice for listeners based on his mentorship work and common challenges he’s seen Veterans face. He talks about the importance of understanding why you are leaving the military. He shares advice about networking and how a connection with another Veteran lead to his work in Research & Development. He talks about how to explain one’s background to someone who is not familiar with the military. He shares why it’s important to be as close as possible to selling a product or making a product. And we talk about much, much more.

About Ben:
Ben Chu is a Director, Global Program Management at Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology company.  Amgen’s mission is to serve patients by developing innovative and transformative medicines. He started out at West Point, after which he served as a Combat Engineer in the Army for over 6 years. He has worked at Amgen for nearly 23 years, starting out in Amgen’s Engineering organization, and then, with the help of the veteran’s network, landed a PM role in R&D, where he has worked in a variety of leadership roles (Pre-Clinical, Clinical, Regulatory & Safety, and now Commercialization). Ben holds an M.S. Engineering from UCLA and an M.B.A. from Pepperdine University.

Our Sponsor: 

  • Amgen is the world’s largest biotechnology company.  Amgen’s mission is to serve patients by developing innovative and transformative medicines.

  • StoryBox- People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.

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Selected Resources: 

Transcript & Time Stamps:


Can you share with us what your transition out of the military was like?

I was finishing up at UCLA and had the opportunity to choose my next assignment. I could go anywhere in the world. I shared that information with my girlfriend and she started to cry. So I realized I needed to look at opportunities that were as closer to where we were living in Los Angeles. I started to network in that area and that’s how I ended up at Amgen.


What drew you to Amgen?

The path that took me here was not very direct. I was looking at a variety of opportunities and had a couple offers in hand. But when I went to interview at Amgen, I was really impressed by the quality of people - how smart and driven they were. There was just a vibe there that felt really cool. So my gut lead me to Amgen.

The people really attracted me and I also liked the mission. In the military, my job was to protect and defend the United States. At Amgen we serve people who are suffering various medical conditions. So at Amgen I felt like I was able to continue serving something greater than myself.

One person that directed me to Amgen was my uncle. He’s extremely well versed in financial management and had clued me in the Amgen was very financially stable. So he encouraged me to go for it.


Could you share a little bit more about the mentoring you’ve done through American Corporate Partners?

I’ve mentored about 12 veterans transitioning out of the military through ACP’s mentoring program. My job is to arm these veterans with the tools they need to make the best decision for themselves and their family as they leave the military.

I think veterans that handle the transition well is that they have a strong initiative as well as a clear idea about what they want to do.


How can people learn what job functions or industries might be a good fit for them?

Reflect back on previous assignments you’ve had and think about what appealed to you about those positions. What were the pieces of those assignments you really enjoyed? Maybe it was working on a team or selling people on a new idea or product. So whatever it might have been, use that to then think about what kinds of careers would be a good fit for you.

Talk to people that you’ve worked with. They will have good ideas about your strengths and where you might be a good fit in an organization.

The other thing I would throw out there is to consider why you want to leave the military. For the people that I’ve mentored, I try to give them feedback on what to expect from life out of the military. When I was transitioning out, my uncle helped me envision life after the military as well as manage my expectations.

I always start my mentorship by challenging the individual to think about what they want to get out of their civilian career and how that is different from being in the military. I want them to be fully aware of the pros and cons of the decision they are making.

Once someone understands fully why they want to get out, the other thing I encourage is for people to just enjoy the journey. When you transition, you have the opportunity to choose whatever path or journey you want to. There’s no one in DC telling you what the next assignment is or what assignments you need in order to promote. So transitioning is a great opportunity if it’s something you are fully prepared for.


How can veterans effectively convey their experience and value to a civilian employer?

I think it’s the toughest challenge veterans have - communicating their experience in a way others will understand and appreciate. I recently mentored a transitioning Army Ranger. The one thing I cautioned him on is that in a lot of cases, civilian employers will not know what an Army Ranger is and what they do. So I was able to work with him on conveying his story succinctly and effectively during the job search process.

You need to break down what you’re passionate about when talking to civilian employers. Find out about what you care about and find a way to express that during the job search and interview process.

There’s a saying - “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Networking is extremely important and it can be very powerful. When I first joined Amgen, my first hiring manager was a nuke sub guy. I will always remember him and appreciate him taking a chance on me. If it wasn’t for him, I might not have gotten into Amgen.

What I’m trying to share with your audience is that as a veteran, you belong to a very important network. With the helped of LinkedIn and other networking tools, you can find out a lot of great information and advice. Even from brief and short interactions, you can receive valuable information. What gave me my break in research and development was that people were willing to give me a chance based on working with me previously.


Why might veterans be a good fit for Amgen?

We have a great mission - a mission to serve patients. It’s much bigger than just hitting a sales goal. We’re able to develop products for people that fill a real health need for them. So it’s a real privilege to work here. The mission is very powerful.

One of the other reasons why people who’ve been successful in the military will find themselves having success at Amgen is because we’re very team oriented. In my current role, I’m a cross functional leader. I work with people from all departments. I have to work with these people to develop strategies and guidelines that will allow our organization to be successful. Working hard, communicating, and building trusting relationships are all things that come into play. Values and and experiences I had in the military are still things I reflect on and use today.


How would you describe the work that Amgen does?

Veterans are hesitant to go into a new industry. But everyone that works anywhere had to start new in that industry at some point. 75% of the roles that we have open right now are not scientific related. In the military, they say that only 1 out of 7 members are trigger pullers. It’s similar here - not everyone is a PhD in biology or a medical doctor. There are many other administrative roles available and we need good people to fill those roles.


How would you describe your current role?

I’m currently a Global Program Manager and I work across many different departments to establish timelines for various projects we’re working on.

Day-to-day involves meeting with various team members and seeing what our challenges are. We take in everyone’s input to come up with the best possible solutions for our clients.

When I arrive at the office each day, I take a look at my calendar and plan out my day. I’ll have meetings and communicate with various people across the company regarding our plans and projects. Ultimately, I have the map the strategy to our execution.


Can you group together the different functional roles you’ve done at Amgen?

One consistent theme during my time in the military and at Amgen has been focused on project management. If you think about project management in its simplest form, it’s leading a project’s activities from start to finish from a resource standpoint.

I think most people have done this during their military career. They’ve had to participate in the planning and execution of projects. So I think veterans can be a really good fit for project management.

As it applies to the biotech space, I would encourage people to look for project management experience. Depending on what level of responsibility you held in the military can be a good indication of where you would be a good fit within project management and in corporate America.


How critical was getting an advanced degree in helping with your career trajectory?

I believe education gives you a little bit more confidence. I don’t necessarily think they were integral to my job. But, for example, getting my Masters in Engineering from UCLA gave me a little bit more confidence during the interview process. It gave me additional confidence in what I could bring to the job.

Getting my MBA from Pepperdine was very helpful in giving me a broader understanding of what business executives think about in terms of valuation, strategy, and finances.

In terms of schooling, I know very senior level people here at Amgen that only have their Bachelor’s degree. So it is possible to be very successful in life with limited formal education. Passion and drive can make up for a lot. There are incredible resources that people can go to.

If people are interested in biotech, Khan Academy has some great material. There’s just so much information out there. If you find something that’s interesting, there’s a lot that you can do on your own in terms of learning and making yourself more marketable.


Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?

I just want to emphasize the importance of networking. It can be really powerful. It doesn’t have to be so transactional. Think about people that you admire and respect. Reach out to those people and think about what information they can provide you and also think about what value you can give to them.

The last suggestion I have is to just seize the moment and enjoy the journey. I’m so appreciative of those that have served and I encourage them to take their life after the military and really make the most of it.